UPDATED: Sanofi sharpens R&D budget ax as it prepares to cut up to 2,000 jobs

The ongoing downsizing of Sanofi is about to claim the jobs of up to 2,000 R&D, manufacturing and support staffers in France, according to a report from Le Figaro. Sources tell the newspaper that the Pasteur vaccine unit is in the cross hairs along with employees in company headquarters, where CEO Chris Viehbacher has regularly beat the drum on the need to create a leaner, more efficient Big Pharma company. And Bloomberg swiftly followed up with the news that the pharma giant plans to end research work in Toulouse and cut back in Montpellier, citing a union representative.

The CGT union's Thierry Bodin told reporters that the 2,000 figure cited by Le Figaro seemed about right, including the loss of 600 research jobs in Toulouse--where Plavix was discovered--and 200 more in Montpellier. R&D around Paris and Lyon is also being revamped.

Last fall Sanofi ($SNY) put out the word that it is carving out around 3,000 of the 13,000 R&D jobs in the company, excluding the head count at Genzyme. Those deep cuts included Sanofi's research unit in Bridgewater, NJ, as the pharma giant culled its considerable ranks in the U.S. as well as Europe. And the news in France, where Sanofi has 5 big research hubs, is doing little for morale.

"I have no idea about what they want to do with Vitry, for example," CGT's Pascal Collemine told Bloomberg. "They are tearing it all down, almost a building torn down each month. It does raise questions. These successive waves of job cuts are highly de- motivating. It's certainly not the right way to boost research productivity. Research takes time, and some stability."

Sanofi is one of the leaders of the "less-is-more" school of drug development and sales. Viehbacher has been one of the most outspoken critics of pharma's lousy drug development record, insisting that the old R&D empires need to be reformed so that they can operate in an open research environment, where biotech collaborators and academic partners could share risk and drive innovation. But the company has also gone two years without a new drug approval, putting growing pressure on the reformed Sanofi to perform. 

Just days ago Sanofi experienced a fresh setback as an FDA panel voted overwhelmingly against its experimental anticoagulant semuloparin. It is hoping for greater success in MS with two key regulatory decisions coming.

As is the usual case, Sanofi's media contacts had no comment on the jobs report in Le Figaro, though Reuters notes that Sanofi executives are meeting with the works council today to discuss employment issues.

- here's the story from Reuters
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